Breaking Windows first annual best games of 2004

It's pretty much official. This has been the biggest year for video games EVER. Not surprisingly, most of the big software has hit in the past few months. Even still, we at Breaking Windows are going to make sense of the software that's hit over the entire year. No, we haven't played every console game this year (though if someone would like to send us a set, that would be nice), but out of what we've played, these are the dozen titles that stick out from the pack.

Matt and I have each come up with our top 6 titles in this, Breaking Windows first annual "Best Of" 2004.

By Matt Paprocki

Metal Gear Solid 3, PS2: A perfect convergence of cinema and video games, this game has officially blurred the line between the two forms. This is a nearly flawless piece of work with an incredible story, great in-jokes, and one of the most mesmerizing chase sequences of all time. It not only manages to push the PS2 hardware to new limits on multiple occasions, but also creates the most enthralling game experience of all time.

Burnout 3, Xbox, PS2: Criterion's ever-improving racing series gets fuels from Electronic Arts pocket books. This is an easy to pick up yet almost impossible to put down racing title with one purpose: crash. Yes, there is some racing, but the addictiveness of the crash mode (plus the addition of online play on both the XBox and PS2) makes this one of the best buys of the year.

Halo 2, XBox: Just a notch below MGS in terms of cinematics, this incredibly hyped game lives up to everything and then some. Though it does suffer from a few annoying graphical glitches, this is otherwise another nearly perfect piece and will likely become the top selling game of all time. At least it's a good one.

ESPN NFL 2K5, PS2, Xbox: At $20, this is gamings best value... and the best football game ever created. The simple tweaks to the gameplay engine propel this one near the top of the list, and the immersion factor is incredible thanks to the well-designed breaks in play. While the other titles in the ESPN line are almost all incredible, they don't come close to the pleasure that NFL brings to fans of the genre. This is a long-lasting title that should get plenty of playtime, at least until next years addition.

Mario Golf, GBA: Yes, this is just an update the Game Boy Color game of the same name, but that doesn't make it any less enjoyable. Though the RPG mode the series is famous for is a little short, you can continue playing forever in the various modes while you continue to build up your character's strength. Even if you don't like golf, this accessible title will teach you. Make sure to buy the Gamecube-to-GBA cable too. Some features can only be unlocked via this method and that's just annoying (and about the only reason this isn't higher on the list).

Samurai Shodown V Special, Neo Geo: There's a likely chance you haven't heard of this one. That's ok. This is the final title for the venerable and expensive Neo Geo AES/MVS hardware. Most people are going to discover this one in the arcade. This is nothing short of a brilliant 2-D fighter with amazing depth not seen in the series since the very first sequel. If you have the means, buy it. If you don't, find an arcade that has a copy running. It's a fitting end to some of the best hardware ever released.

Game of the Year: Metal Gear Solid 3

By Ken Edwards

Fable, Xbox: Fable was easily the most anticipated game this year. Hell, it was the most anticipated game last year! Fable is the best RPG experience on the XBox since Morrowind was ported from the PC. Some people complained about how short the game is. After completing all the side quests, it was short. But man was this a sweet ride. A game of this caliber does not come along often, and you really need to play the game multiple times to experience the full breadth of it. I really cannot say enough about Fable. If you play as good or evil, its always enjoyable. You really can get wrapped up in the story, and that is what makes Fable a must have.

Splinter Cell Pandora Tomorrow, GCN, PS2. PC, Xbox: Sam Fisher is back with his stealth goodness, this time to fix things in 2006. Unlike Metal Gear Solid, Splinter Cell is entirely about stealth. You cannot go in guns blazing as you can in MGS, in Splinter Cell you would be hopelessly outnumbered, and in most cases would compromise the mission on the first kill. Although Pandora Tomorrow is a true sequel 2002's Splinter Cell, there is little in the way of additions. You get a couple new gadgets and some new moves that Sam can use. The real addition this time around is online multiplayer on XBox Live. I do not know which is more fun, playing the spy or the mercenary. The cooperative online multiplayer is a unique battle of two on two. The online maps are huge, and the gameplay mechanics for the spy and merc are completely different.

Another great story makes Pandora Tomorrow a must have. Last Word: Get the XBox version if you are a multi-platform owner. Not just because of the Xbox Live play, the graphics just pale in comparison on the other systems.

Did you know: You now use a Sony Erikson and not a Palm PDA in the game. Sony on the XBox, priceless.

Champions of Norrath: Realms of EverQuest, PS2: Of the 3 titles out this year using this same engine, the originators, SnowBlind Studio's Champions of Norrath is the best. Champions of Norrath is much longer then Dark Alliance 2. It is a lot more detailed, and does not repeat textures and environments like Dark Alliance 2 does. Champions uses a Dual Layer DVD, which is not very common, that is how big this game is. It also boasts 4 player, online and offline gameplay. While the offline is fun, the real gem here is the online multiplayer. Getting 4 people together for a hack-n-slash dungeon crawl is just pure fun. This is easily the best online PS2 title this year. I actually finished the game through playing online long before I completed it offline.

If there is one complaint about Champions of Norrath, it is that you bring offline Player Characters (PC) online to play. You do not save a PC on the game server. This means you can level up during online play and then save, and continue with that PC in your offline game. This opens up other cheating as well. Item duplication is very easy. This ability to manipulate characters via online play has another horrible downside as well. You can really screw up your offline game in a hurry. It is a small gripe, but a noticeable one if you are not aware of it. This game is just pure fun. The magic system is great. Its also not a short game, which is a nice change for once.

By the way, they are working on a sequel, Return to Arms. I can't wait.

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, PS2: What can you say? Grand Theft Auto is a major franchise with a huge following. San Andreas is exponentially bigger then Vice City with all kinds of new features like bicycles, for example. The fully realized world is more alive then ever, and they added many brand new mini games which break up the game play very well. A lot of these mini games are side quests in themselves. It really adds an entirely new experience to the GTA gameplay. Rockstar has improved everything. The driving is better, the targeting is a lot better, and the story is better. It really captures the Boyz in the Hood/Menace II Society undertone of the West Coast in the 1990s. This is the best PS2 game, ever, and it lives up to the hype.

And hey, who doesn't want to go around beating people up with a purple dildo?

Metroid Prime 2 Echos, GCN: Retro Studios really beat any expectations with Metroid Prime in 2002, and this year's sequel manages to quell some of the biggest complaints of Prime, namely more boss fights. Metroid Prime 2 is a much darker tale then the original Prime, it is also a lot harder to complete. Prime 2 returns with great puzzles, and some really spectacular art direction. There are plenty of power-ups to search for, just like Metroid Prime, but this time the Screw Attack is back. New visors and new weapons are yours to find too. You really feel a sense of accomplishment finding all these power-ups. The Light and Dark suites really add a lot to the game play. There is more to find and do this time around, and the boss battles add a lot to the game play.

Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes, GCN: It does not really matter if you played Metal Gear Solid on the PSOne or not, this was a much anticipated game. Konami and Silicon Knights did a wonderful job in this remake of the original. The graphics really shine on the Game Cube. It is hard to believe all the cut scenes are rendered in real time. This is one of the best looking games on this system. Twin Snakes benefits from the new moves introduced in MGS 2. It is nice to be able to use First Person View to shoot, but this sort of feels like cheating throughout the game and in boss battles. The new moves made it into this remake, but sadly analog control did not. It is great to relive this epic PSOne game, the improved production values and same solid story make this a very satisfying game to complete.

After completing Metal Gear Solid 3 I am finding The Twin Snakes a much more enjoyable, and understandable game this second time through.

Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords, Xbox: Knights of the Old Republic 2 (KOTOR 2) came out too late to be played enough to be reviewed for our Best Games of 2004. I have my first impressions over here. In the end, however, I do not think KOTOR 2 will be regarded as highly as the original KOTOR is. KOTOR 2 is a great game marred by horrible load times and a story that is not as brilliant as its predecessor. But enough with the gripes. I cannot put KOTOR 2 down, the new additions to the gameplay and this new story keep me up till way past my bedtime. If you are a KOTOR fan, or simply want an amazingly great Star Wars RPG, then buy this game. If you have never played through KOTOR, its only $20.

Game of the Year: Metal Gear Solid 3

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